Mav’Rik, the Santa Cruz Warriors mascot, was one of the thousands of Warriors fans attending Pajama Night on Jan. 22.
Two thousand pajama-clad fans ditched their bedtime routines to fill Kaiser Permanente Arena on Friday night. The late night was worth it — fans left completely ecstatic after the Santa Cruz Warriors overcame the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in double overtime 119-118 to snap the team’s six-game losing streak.
The Warrior’s second annual Pajama Night supported Project Pajamas, an organization that was founded by Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Ariadne Symons and provides new pajamas to children in houseless shelters or transitional housing.
“The Santa Cruz Warriors are grateful to support Project Pajamas,” said Warriors’ public relations director Gina Antoniello. “Last year, we had about 300 pairs of pajamas go toward several homeless shelters. Our organization always strives toward reaching out to local non-profit organizations.”
The week leading to Pajama Night is “Pajama Week,” when players come to schools dressed in pajamas to interact with children whose mothers are victims of domestic violence and displacement.
This year Pajama Night offered a special deal. Admission tickets for the game were $35, and fans paid another $25 for a child from the organization to attend the game. Each ticket donated a pair of pajamas to Project Pajamas, which benefits organizations like Rebele Family Homeless Shelter and Pajaro Valley Shelter.
“Anything we can do in the arena to bring people together for a good cause is awesome. You wish you could do it every night,” said Santa Cruz Warriors head coach Casey Hill. “Our front offices have done a great job in promoting and organizing such an event.”
Pajama Night brought in an enormous supportive home crowd, which guided the Warriors through an intense game against Rio Grande Valley.
In the first quarter, the Vipers took a steady 17-11 lead after Viper’s Raphiael Putney made two easy three-pointers at the top of the key. The Warriors gradually closed the deficit to two points at the end of the quarter.
The rest of normal time followed the same theme — the Vipers maintained their lead into the fourth quarter, while the Warriors struggled to find momentum on offense. In the second quarter, the Warriors converted only 33 percent of their free throw opportunities.
“We probably set a record for most missed free throws today,” Hill said.
In the fourth quarter, down 109-100 with three minutes to play, the Warriors found strength and went on a 7-0 run until the last minute of play. With 20 seconds left, guard Elliot Williams made a reverse lay-up after a steal by guard Aaron Craft, tying the game and bringing it to overtime.
“It was awesome how loud it was,” Hill said. “There hasn’t been this response from the crowd for a while.”
In overtime, Craft sunk a three-point shot from the right side to push the Warriors ahead 115-111 with one minute left to play. The Vipers, however, responded with three points from a free throw and lay-up to tie it at 115.
In the second overtime, the Vipers took the early lead 118-115. The Warriors capitalized on a sloppy turnover to make back-to-back buckets from Williams and guard Darington Hobson to make the score 119-118. With only 24 seconds left to play, the Vipers failed to neutralize after missing repeated lay-ups, as the home crowd held their breath. Center Mac Koshwal took the rebound and secured the win.
“It feels fantastic to win a game back home again,” said Craft, who left the Warriors last August to play professionally in Hungary until the end of 2015.
Williams also made it in the highlight reel after scoring a career-high of 48 points, the most points scored in a game in franchise history.
The Warriors recorded another double overtime win against the Vipers the following night with over 2,000 fans in attendance. This time it was Craft who was the hero, after sinking a floating jump shot at the buzzer to take the game 128-126. He recorded 13 points and six rebounds.
The Warrior’s next home game against the Reno Bighorns is on Feb. 9 and will support Habitat for Humanity, an organization that provides homes for families living in developing countries.